Last week I saw this recurring behavior, again. And, every time I see it, I recognize it as a symptom of a supervisor who is avoiding conflict. It is something all supervisors, including me, have done at some point in our careers.

What was it? It was a “training” for a whole team of mostly experienced, competent people on a topic that only one person was deficient. As I looked around at the faces of the people in the group, I saw each person become more and more disengaged. It was a waste of valuable time.

A few years ago I wrote about this in an article Don’t Punish Everyone for One Person’s Mistake when I first focused on ridiculous laws and regulations that hurt many people when one or two people need to be dealt with.

Today, I want to revisit a few common employee misbehaviors, look at the side effects of ignoring direct feedback, and then provide you with a resource for doing one-on-one sessions.

Employee Misbehaviors. I’m sure most of you have had an experience with an employee or team member when you thought, “What were you thinking?” You know, that moment when you knew either the employee was devoid of “common sense” or was unethical.  Here are just a few examples from my experience:

  1. Using the company’s computers for personal business and doing so on “company time;”
  2. Writing poor and sometimes fabricated customer file notes;
  3. Wearing a bare midriff top or flip-flops to a business meeting with a customer;
  4. Submitting expense reports that include personal expenses or driving the long way around to maximize a mileage reimbursement;
  5. Posting very inappropriate comments about work clients on one’s public Facebook account.

Side Effects of Not Dealing with Employee Misbehavior. When people do these kinds of things, rather than directly communicate with the employee, I too often see supervisors hold team meetings to remind everyone not to do whatever that one employee did. If this has happened to you, think about your situation and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you really avoiding the conflict that might come when you confront the sole offender?
  • Your team is smart and will wonder “why” you are doing this training, now. Will they think this is a waste of their time?
  • Will your team lose respect for you as their leader because you couldn’t deal with the conflict one-on-one?

Knowing How to Manage Conflict. At the center of properly solving this problem is conflict management. “Conflict avoidance”, one of Kilmann-Thomas’ five conflict management methods, is the least effective method for facing employee misbehavior. A leader needs to be direct and assertive. If you find yourself not wanting to face the individual, you are likely avoiding conflict. If you prepare properly, you can confront the individual and have the best outcome for everyone.

Julia Austin, in her article Mastering the One-on-One Meeting in Harvard Business Review, describes very well how to execute effective one-on-one meetings. While she does not specifically address sticky behaviors like some you may run into, her framework may be helpful to you.

Remember, when your team member does not behave appropriately, it is your responsibility to deal with it directly and promptly. If you just have team meetings or implement new policies, you are punishing everyone else for one person’s misbehavior – a practice surely to lower your leadership standing.